Sophie Mei Lan struggled to understand herself until she was diagnosed. Today, she describes how exercise enables her to truly thrive as the person God has designed her to be
“You’re a whirlwind”, “you’re chaotic”, “you’re disorganised”, “you’re too giddy” are just a few of the ways I have been described. I was always criticised as being in “Sophie’s world”, rather than the “normal world”– according to neurotypical people.
My neurodivergent brain has always been described negatively, but actually sometimes it is what’s not said that hurts most; the anger and frustration from those around me, as I whizz around unable to sit still and often forgetting things. Unintentionally injuring myself and picking up on others’ responses can make me flap more. It can feel distressing when your brain is wired a certain way so that it is much harder to process the world around you.
Coming to understand my brain
I don’t blame people for getting annoyed at me because I also didn’t understand my mind either until much later in life. It was only then I truly embraced the unique gift that God has given me.
Just like all our fingerprints are different, so are our brains. My brain used to feel like a curse when I struggled to fit in, but now, with my diagnosis and the knowledge that God is by my side I thank him for wiring my brain this way because life is so much more beautiful when you confidently transgress the ‘norm’. It’s no shock that some of the world’s best leaders, pioneers and professionals are neurodivergent.
Learning how to thrive
We all know how fitness can help our mental and physical health, but I never realised it was my biggest coping mechanism for my neurodivergent brain too. I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia until later in life and I am still on the waiting list for an ADHD diagnostic test. On the surface I am ‘highly functioning’, but behind closed doors I find daily life and processes a challenge.
My mum describes me as a swan, seemingly peaceful on the outside but my feet are pedalling like mad under the water. I may struggle to tie my shoelaces or tell the time but in my professional mode I can be filming, interviewing and writing in-depth features with ease.
Life is so much more beautiful when you confidently transgress the ‘norm’
To manage my personal and professional life, I have adopted a range of coping mechanisms (over the years I have embraced some unhelpful ones, such as disordered eating). Exercise is definitely the most helpful; it doesn’t just challenge and distract my brain, it floods it with endorphins and calms my mind so I feel more able to focus.
Today, my high energy has also been channelled into teaching exercise, dance and yoga classes as well as taking part in adventurous outdoor pursuits. Granted I am super clumsy, always getting hurt just walking or cooking, but I am proud to have embraced the illogical part of my brain, which acts on impulse rather than rationale, as it has allowed me to take part in all sorts of sports challenges.
Living my own perfectly imperfect life
I have always felt out of place at church because I struggle to sit down to pray. I’m most focused on prayer and worship when I’m moving, so enjoy walking meditation, worship workouts and praying while I dance about the house. For too long I felt guilty and ignorant for not managing to sit still like everyone else – I hadn’t realised the real reason behind this until I received my diagnosis. It unlocked a whole world of support, including a specialist tutor who understood the need for me to move around.
The more I began to appreciate my diverse mind, the more I felt able to assert my needs because I function differently to someone who is neurotypical and need to move around in order to concentrate.
A non-negotiable routine for me now is to start each day with the structure of prayer and exercise. It allows me to allay any anxiety, connect with other people online and calm my mind by tiring out my body.
I am proud to have embraced the illogical part of my brain
As much as my brain fights structure, it thrives off this routine, as spending time coaching, attending personal training sessions and teaching belly dance helps my busy mind and body. I am able, then, to have some calmer time to pray and set my goals for the rest of the day.
I also dance in my breaks to music on Premier Christian radio while cleaning, which can be a great way to keep fit and feel connected to God.
Fitness helps me to manage my external environment and the world around me whereas worship helps my inner world connect to God and feel at peace.
It’s not just me that fitness, dance and movement helps; I have worked with loved ones to find an exercise they now love. My autistic brother, for instance, now relies on parkrun and a close friend and I have set up an early morning club for people with diverse bodies and minds to get active at the same time each day.
I now lean in to being what others may class as ‘weird’, secure in the knowledge that God made me unique in his image.